Mahatma Gandhi not only gave us freedom but he also gave the world and us a new thought on nonviolence and sustainable living. His teachings and experiments are more valid today then ever especially when we are trying to find solutions to worldwide violence and runaway consumptive life style which is going to put a very heavy burden on the world's resources.
Through ages India has occasionally given to the world a new thought. Thus Buddhism, Jainism, Yogic system, Sikhism are part of great spiritual thought given by India from time to time. Gandhiji's message of nonviolence and sustainable living is a continuation of that long tradition.
Gandhiji was energy conservator par excellence. He lived in his ashrams without electricity or any modern amenities. His insistence on use of self-human labor for majority of needs was legendary and was usually frowned upon by his closest colleagues who thought it was anti progress and pushing back India to stone ages. Nevertheless his own life was a shining example of how with frugal living and with minimum energy needs he was capable of producing the highest quality of thought. Very few of us can live his exemplary life but Gandhiji showed that mental happiness and simple living could form the basis of sustainability. He believed that with simple living the resources of the planet earth can sustain us comfortably and his famous saying that earth provides us enough for our needs but not for our greed is extremely apt today.
Gandhiji was a highly evolved and spiritual human being. Politics came as a byproduct of spirituality and he considered it as his duty to help his countrymen and fellow beings. The spirit of Bhagwadgita's Karma Yoga guided him in this endeavor. There are many instances of people who saw his glowing skin, aura, and felt the presence of his personality whenever they met him. That is only possible for a Yogi of very high order.
My father who was involved in the freedom struggle and went to jail with Gandhiji told of a remarkable instance. In early 1940's just before the quit India movement, a mammoth public meeting took place in Allahabad. About 5-10 lakh people were present. Gandhiji was late for the meeting. All the great leaders of independence movement were giving their speeches and trying to calm the crowd, which was quite restless. Then suddenly Gandhiji came, climbed on the dias and put a finger on his lips. A wave of silence swept the grounds starting from dias. My father termed it as a remarkable experience of the power of a small frail man over the masses.
Sometimes Gandhiji carried his energy conservation experiments too far. His experiments on conserving his sexual energy proved quite controversial. He was obviously following the age-old tradition of abstinence that yogis practice. Thus when at the age of 70 he had a wet dream he felt that his world had collapsed. He wrote about it and said that he felt ashamed of himself. Recent scientific evidence however has shown that our brains are full of sexual chemicals, which help in memory improvement and general well being. It is therefore possible that the practice of abstinence was done intuitively by yogis to conserve these chemicals to enhance their brain quality, which would help them in practice of yoga. More than the loss of chemicals, Gandhiji felt a lack of Sanyam and a loss of control over his purity of thought and hence his anguish.
As a spiritual being and visionary Gandhiji was far ahead of his times. I am sure if he were alive today he would have felt that his dream village (about which he talked often) could have taken shape with the availability of internet connectivity, desktop manufacturing and small renewable energy power packs. His dream of giving employment and decent life to rural population may become possible with the availability of these energy efficient and high tech systems. Hence if we follow his maxim of simple living and high thinking then it is possible to have a decentralized high tech rural society and India can again show the world a new path in sustainable living.